Growth in the construction industry could be held back by a weakening housing market, rising costs and an increasingly nervous banking sector, according to the Federation of Master Builders (FMB).
The FMB’s latest State of Trade Survey showed that workloads for construction SMEs grew in Q4 2018. Despite this, there are serious concerns about the mounting problems facing small building firms with 42% of builders detecting signs of a weakening housing market.
The survey also revealed that one in five construction SMEs have had projects stalled in the past three months due to delays to loans, or loan refusals, from the banks.
Looking ahead, expectations for the future weakened for the third consecutive quarter, with just one third (33%) of construction SMEs anticipating higher workloads in Q1 2019. This is down from 36% in the previous quarter.
The price of materials is also a major issue with 87% of builders anticipating that material prices will rise further in the next six months.
Brian Berry, Chief Executive of the FMB, said: “Workloads for small construction firms continued to rise in the last quarter of 2018 but after 23 consecutive quarters of growth, these latest results could mark a tipping point. Mounting Brexit uncertainty is starting to have a tangible effect and the indicators are not good with almost half of builders reporting signs of a weakening housing market. Furthermore, a worrying one in five construction SMEs has had projects stalled in the past three months due to delays to loans, or loan refusals, from the banks. Together with ever-rising costs due to material price hikes and labour shortages, the headwinds are blowing in the wrong direction for the UK construction sector.”
The survey also noted that carpenters and joiners have overtaken bricklayers as the trade in shortest supply for the first time in more than a year. Brian Berry noted: “Naturally, these shortages are resulting in workers commanding higher wages and this is causing issues for construction employers. These rising costs, coupled with steadily increasing material prices since the UK referendum, are squeezing the margins of constructions SMEs – making a profit has never been more challenging.”